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What Should the New Jersey Devils do at the Trade Deadline

The NHL Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching and the rumour mill is buzzing. Despite that, there hasn’t been much action. Most teams, including the New Jersey Devils, seem to be in a holding pattern until the deadline. The Devils have been at the front and centre of trade discussions, particularly in the goalie market. Calgary’s Jacob Marsktrom and Nashville’s Juuse Saros are the two hottest names that are linked with the Devils.

What has thrown this all in a wrench is how underwhelming the Devils’ season has been. Coming off of a season where they broke the franchise record in points and won a playoff series, they were a hot pick to make some noise this season. Instead, they made noise for all the wrong reasons. Wildly inconsistent play, injuries, league-worse goaltending and off-ice scandal have sent the team spiralling this season.

As the trade deadline approaches, general manager Tom Fitzgerald may need to take a step back and reevaluate where his team is at this season. They are multiple points back of a playoff spot, and with games dwindling, Fitzgerald should take a different approach to the deadline.

New Jersey Devils Trade Deadline Plan

Wait on the Goalie

As we said, the Devils are in for a goalie. However, where the team is out right now that might not be a great idea. First off, while they do desperately need a number one goalie, the trade deadline is not the time to make that move. Trying to acquire the calibre of goalie in-season is as tough a task as there is for a general manager. The cost of acquisition is as high as it will ever be throughout the year. If you’re Calgary with Jacob Markstrom or Nashville with Juuse Saros, you know how desperate the Devils are. Would Fitzgerald really be wise to trade extra assets for a player when the team is so far out of a playoff spot?

A second reason why an in-season goalie trade no longer makes sense is the availability. It’s slim pickings when it comes to trading for a top goalie in the middle of the season. The task of finding a franchise goalie is exponentially easier in the summer when teams are more willing to engage in trade talks. It doesn’t make sense to trade off a goalie in the middle of the season when teams are still trying to win.

Also, in the case of Markstrom and Saros, there’s a reason why both Calgary and Nashville are entertaining trades. In the case of Markstrom, he’s 34 years old with multiple years at $6 million a season and has shown inconsistencies. The Devils need to solve their goalie problem with a long-term solution, which Markstrom certainly isn’t. As for Saros, his track record is fantastic but he’s currently in the midst of his worst season. Also, Saros is a free agent after next season, meaning he will be chasing a long-term, big-money extension. The Devils would be negotiating against themselves if they were to give away major assets for a player approaching free agency.

Start Selling

The nightmare scenario could be coming true as the deadline grows closer. The Devils have been sellers at the deadline for the better part of a decade. But after last year’s success, those days seemed over. However, if Fitzgerald is smart, they shouldn’t be. The Devils currently have five pending unrestricted free agents; Tyler Toffoli, Tomas Nosek, Chris Tierney, Colin Miller, and Brendan Smith.

The three that stick out are Toffoli, Miller, and Smith. Out of the three, Toffoli is the most intriguing trade asset the Devils have. He is the team leader in goals and is a proven scoring veteran. He also has a modest cap hit of $4.25 million, 50% of which the Devils can retain. It was a great trade at the time, but Toffoli should not be a part of the team’s future. His skating and style of play don’t match up the the fast-paced style that the Devils are designed to play. Not to mention the market for 30-plus goal scorers lends its hand in the Devil’s favor. It’s pure speculation here, but with some retained salary the idea of getting a first-round pick in return shouldn’t be ruled out. However, a second and a third or fourth is a more likely return.

Then there’s Miller and Smith. Both players won’t light the world on fire but can provide much-needed defensive depth for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Miller has ended up having a solid year after a poor preseason. The Devils gave up just a fifth-round pick for him, and the way he’s played this season the team should be able to recoup that pick back. As for Smith, he has been the poster child for the team’s bad play this season. Sometimes it’s unwarranted, most times it is. That being said, Smith is still a good option for a team looking for a number seven/eight defenceman. The return wouldn’t be much, but getting a late-round pick while also freeing up a spot for a young blue-liner for the rest of the season may be the way to go.

So What Should They Do

A few weeks ago it made a ton of sense to go out and get a goalie and maybe even another piece or two. But now it may be too far gone. Fitzgerald has to be honest with himself and see this team is not playoff-caliber, and no goalie will fix that. He’ll also have to be brutally honest and admit that he messed up. He waited way too long and now a trade does more harm than good long term. The smart thing to do is sell. Chalk this up as a learning season, recoup draft picks, and look towards next year. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but in the long run, it’s what’s best for the franchise.

Main photo by: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports


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